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Boston Ballet dancer files sexual assault lawsuit

Sage Humphries, a dancer with Boston Ballet, shown here in August 2020 in California, has filed suit against Mitchell Taylor Button for sexual assault.
Sage Humphries, a dancer with Boston Ballet, shown here in August 2020 in California, has filed suit against Mitchell Taylor Button for sexual assault.Micah Humphries

A dancer with the Boston Ballet filed a lawsuit last week accusing the spouse of a former Boston Ballet star of repeated sexual assault, alleging that his wife — a former principal dancer with the company — aided and later perpetrated the abuse herself.

Boston Ballet’s Sage Humphries and another dancer, Gina Menichino, allege in court filings that Mitchell Taylor Button and his wife, the well-known ballerina Dusty Button, use their elevated standing in the dance community to gain the trust of young dancers, “then exploit those relationships to coerce sexual acts by means of force and fraud.”

The suit, filed in United States District Court in Nevada, names Mitchell Button as a defendant. It does not name Dusty Button, though it accuses her of engaging in a host of sexual abuses against Humphries, including holding her down while her husband assaulted her.

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The lawsuit further alleges that Mitchell Button sexually abused “at least five of his students” while working as a dance instructor in Florida, including a “minor child who was a student in his class for a period of three years, beginning when she was 13 years old.”

Sigrid McCawley, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said her clients filed the suit now in hopes of protecting other young dancers.

“This is a pair of perpetrators who are highly sophisticated, highly manipulative, and are continuing, which is exactly what my clients were concerned about,” said McCawley, a managing partner at Boies Schiller Flexner, who has represented several victims of serial predator Jeffrey Epstein.

An attorney for the Buttons denied the allegations.

“Taylor and Dusty Button categorically deny these baseless claims, and they look forward to the opportunity to disprove all of the Plaintiffs’ allegations through court proceedings,” attorney Ken Swartz said in a statement.

The Boston Ballet, where Humphries continues to dance, declined to comment on the case, instead issuing a statement.

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“Boston Ballet supports Sage Humphries who is bravely coming forward, sharing her experience to protect others, and seeking accountability and justice,” the statement reads in part. “The Ballet will continue to do everything in its power to create and promote a safe and supportive culture for its students, dancers, staff, and community.”

The suit, which was first reported by The New York Times, claims Mitchell Button began abusing young dancers more than a decade ago. It claims his “abuse involved, among other things, forcefully performing oral sex and requiring it to be performed on him.”

Menichino said she first entered his orbit in 2010, when she began taking classes with him as a 13-year-old dance student at the Centerstage Dance Academy in Tampa, Fla.

She added that she’d previously been “in awe” of Button and was thrilled when he texted one of her friends about working with her personally on a solo.

“I just like lit up,” she said.

The suit alleges that Button then took a “special interest” in Menichino, complimenting her body, rehearsing with her alone at the studio, and maintaining a sexually explicit text exchange.

The suit claims that on two separate occasions, Button, then 25, fondled Menichino while watching a movie under a blanket, once digitally penetrating her and placing her hand on his penis.

“I was so caught up in this alt-reality,” said Menichino, now 25. “He dragged me away from my friends, my family; I isolated myself, he was all that became my world.”

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Menichino said she later approached the police in 2018 about bringing a criminal case against Button. A police file from the time describes the state’s decision not to press charges, citing lack of evidence.

Button, who has several aliases, but went by “Taylor Moore” at the time, left the studio at the end of 2010, telling students he was going to be with his girlfriend, Dusty Button, then a student at The Royal Ballet School in London, according to the lawsuit. The pair later married, and he took his wife’s last name.

Dusty Button, now a dance world celebrity with more than 300,000 Instagram followers, joined Boston Ballet in 2012, quickly ascending to the role of principal dancer.

Humphries arrived in 2016 as a member of its apprentice program, Boston Ballet II. She said she’d previously been “in awe” of Button’s dancing and had followed her on Instagram.

Humphries, 23, said the principal dancer turned friendly once she was offered a contract with the main company, praising her talent and speaking with her frequently. Then, one day in rehearsal, “she told me: I would love for you to meet my husband,” Humphries recalled, “I think you would love him too.”

In the coming months, the Buttons exerted increasing control over Humphries, the lawsuit alleges, plying her with alcohol, insisting she sleep at their Somerville apartment, and covering her expenses. In addition, it claims Mitchell Button took control of Humphries’s social media to “make her famous like Dusty,” while also discouraging her from maintaining other friendships or speaking freely with her family.

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“She was never ever talking to us alone anymore,” said Sage’s mother, Micah Humphries, who added she eventually confronted the Buttons. “At that point I knew that something serious was going on.”

The alleged sexual abuse began when Mitchell Button insisted the three of them watch a movie while lying on a mattress together, according to the lawsuit.

“At some point, Dusty fell asleep,” the suit alleges. “Taylor then rolled over and began to sexually assault Sage.”

“I just was completely frozen,” said Humphries. “I felt so alone, and I felt very ashamed and violated.”

According to the lawsuit, during a trip to visit Humphries’s parents in California, the Buttons insisted the three of them instead stay alone at the family’s beach house.

There, the suit recounts, “Dusty began kissing Sage, and Taylor soon joined. They told Sage, ‘this is what you want, we can finally be together.’”

“I didn’t have any words,” Humphries said. “I felt like I was out of my body, like these things weren’t actually happening to me.”

The abuse intensified back in Boston, the suit alleges, including one incident where the couple tied up her arms and legs in a room lined with guns.

“The Buttons then sexually assaulted [Humphries]” the suit alleges, claiming that when she began sobbing, begging them to untie her, the “Buttons told her she was being weak and stupid.”

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“I was basically like their little bird in a cage,” said Humphries, who moved in with the Buttons full-time following the California trip. “I was, like, officially their property, and they wanted complete control and access to me all the time.”

Dusty Button’s employment with the Boston Ballet ended abruptly on May 22, 2017. Humphries was performing in “The Sleeping Beauty” at the time, when her parents, sensing an opening, flew to Boston intent on retrieving their daughter.

The Humphries arrived at the Boston Opera House before the show, a hired car waiting outside.

“She was crying,” Sage’s father, Michael Humphries, recalled, adding that Ballet staff escorted Sage out of the building before she was supposed to go on stage. “We got to the airport and got out of there.”

That August, Humphries successfully sought a restraining order against the Buttons.

Plaintiffs’ attorney McCawley said she anticipated other women who’ve alleged abuse may eventually join the case.

“Many of the young women that we spoke to are terrified,” she said. “That’s understandable in this circumstance, but there is power in numbers. There’s power in light that you put on abuse.”


Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay.